It’s a miracle…

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A couple of weeks ago I went to the dentist to get my teeth cleaned.  I saw the same wonderfully funny woman who has been cleaning my teeth for the past 25 years. While I sit, mouth agape, she tells me stories about her kids, her home and a general overview of what’s happening in her life. It is always good to see her.

As I walked into her teeth cleaning space I said ‘How are you?’. She replied, “I have a good story for you today” And she did.

It seems her younger son, who is now 30, has had seizures all his life. He has taken medicines, tried all manner of things, but nothing seemed to work. He would have big seizures and little ones. He would wake up from a seizure and not know where he was; disoriented, not aware of his surroundings.

Through all of this he managed to graduate from college and this past June received his MBA. For his ‘Final’, he and his team were to give a business plan, and he was the speaker for the group. As the group ahead of his group was starting their talk, he told one of his cohorts that he was having a seizure. As he came out of the seizure, he asked where he was and what he was doing. The cohort, who, as you can imagine was starting to panic, told him that they were at the auditorium getting ready to present the business plan. He told her to give him an outline of the talk, and to just keep talking to him.

At the appointed time, he went onstage, presented the business plan, and did such a fine job that everyone received an A for their effort.

As his school year was wrapping up, he found himself being looked at by UCSF, The University of California, San Francisco Medical School. They found a small tumor in his brain, right next to his memory center. They told him they believed they could remove the tumor, and that he might not suffer from seizures anymore. He agreed to have the surgery just after he was to graduate from school.

The surgery was arduous. He told his Mom that it was excruciating. The doctors kept waking him up, and putting him to sleep. His head was immobilized and his brain was opened to get the tumor. They talked to him during the surgery, he told stories, wild stories to the nurses and the doctors. The surgery took 7 hours. They got the tumor.

Six weeks have passed since the surgery, and no seizures. The doctors were concerned that his speech would be affected for some time. His Mother reports that he is talking up a storm.

The miracle here is that the surgery could be done at all. Twenty years ago, the technology and expertise, and knowledge about the brain would not have allowed his surgery to take place. The brain is the new frontier of the body.

Another frontier ahead of us is the soil we stand upon. The soil is alive and full of all kinds of organisms that we are just starting to get to know. The microbial life in the soil has hardly been analyzed. Over the next twenty years we will find new ways to discover what is in the soil, and how we can improve our soils in natural ways.

Farmers tell me that their yields are going down, disease pressures are going up, water is becoming an issue. I think that worms are going to be part of the solution to all of these problems. We’ve looked at the brain, now we are going to look into our soils.

Just as we have had breakthroughs in brain science, over the next twenty years we’ll see breakthroughs in soil science. The miracle will be the rebuilding of soils, reduction of chemical use, and better food for all.

In the past year we have been doing research here at the Worm Farm, at Universities and with Commercial growers. As these trials start to wrap up, we will have exciting results to share with you. The new frontier is here and we plan to be a big part of it.

Join the Underground Movement

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A great start for the New Year… The New York Times Showed Up!

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We are off and running at the Worm Farm! Last Fall we started an expansion which is now complete. We doubled the number of VermiComposters; see our newest addition above on the left. We added new composting capability and are poised to more than double our production of VermiCompost in 2013.

We started off the New Year by making a splash in the New York Times. Here’s the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/01/science/worms-produce-another-kind-of-gold-for-farmers.html?_r=1&. Jim Robbins, the writer for the Times, visited the Worm Farm on a nice fall afternoon, with his son. As we walked around, I told him the story of how the Worm Farm came into being in 1970. I explained how I bought into the idea of worms and moved out to the farm in 1993. It was a good visit and his thoughtful and well researched article was the 6th most emailed article from the entire New York Times for a day or so.

In the science section of the Times, the article was the most read piece for several days. At first I was surprised, but after a couple of days, I realized this article was resonating with people on several levels. First, it was a science based article that was telling the story of how worms can help soils grow better food naturally. I believe people want to eat good food that has been grown without chemicals and pesticides. I also think we all want to have good health, which starts by eating good food. A great way to start that cycle is to grow food in good, healthy soils.

Second, I believe that we are coming to the end game of the chemical farming era. Farmers are finding their soils depleted, yields going down, and their crops susceptible to disease. My team and I believe that we are entering the era of Biological farming. Instead of chemicals feeding plants, we will be adding composts, VermiComposts, teas and VermiCompost extracts to feed the soil. Feed the soil, and let the soil feed the plant.

At the Worm Farm, we believe worms are going to help lead this this Biological movement that will transform how we grow food. We have doubled our efforts and are ready to help lead the charge.

‘Join the Underground Movement’

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Marvin Hamlisch, Jerry Goldstein and Worms

Yesterday Marvin Hamlisch died suddenly, only 68 years old. He brought some great music to the movies and Broadway. I can still remember going to see ‘The Sting’ one Christmas afternoon, and humming the theme song for weeks afterward. By all accounts Marvin was not only a very talented guy, but a person beloved by all. In the different obituaries I read they said he was very bright, funny and a joy to be around. One couple said they would miss him every day for the rest of their lives. Here in this day and age of ‘Superstardom’ and the religion of wealth, we have people saying how much they will miss the man. How his simple human dignity made him so much more than a mere composer or musician.

A couple of months ago another good man left us; Jerry Goldstein  the founder of Bio-Cycle magazine, who died in May of this year. Jerry was a friend of this Worm Farm, an advocate for change, and one of the sweetest men you will ever meet. Jerry called me out of the blue one day and asked me if I could do a story about our Worm Farm. I was thrilled to be noticed and overwhelmed by what I would say. I called him several times to ask his advice on editing the piece. He would encourage me with ‘that’s great’, ‘yes, I would leave that in’. I met him at several of his conferences and he would always have a kind word. I would ask him about himself, but often he would just demure and ask me another question about the Worm Farm or my family.

A couple of years ago I returned a call to the art director at BioCycle magazine. They were running an article about the 10th anniversary of Rhonda Sherman’s Worm Conference she has each year in North Carolina. The art director had called about a picture from our Worm Farm, that they wanted to use in the article. After we were done discussing the picture, I asked him about Jerry. He said that I should talk with his daughter Nora, and he transferred the call over to her.

Nora picked up the phone, and I explained who I was, and she said, ‘yes, Jack, the Worm Farm, how are you’. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I’m sure a bit of her Dad has rubbed off on her. I asked her about Jerry and she said, ‘well, he has had a setback’. She then went on to tell me how one Tuesday she had left the office for a short business trip. She returned on Thursday to find her father had overnight descended into Alzheimer’s. She said looking back the family could see the little signs, but he had tried so hard to still be present and one day things changed.

She said he was in good health, that her Mother and the family were caring for him and it was sad, but he was still with them. Now he is no longer.

So, in the past several months we have lost two good men, who helped change the world they lived in. They worked hard, loved what they did, and lived good lives. In this day and age of living for the ‘flash’ and hunting for the money, it is refreshing to remember two people who by living their lives, set an example for others on how to live theirs.

Every day Marvin would create music and make people laugh. Jerry would write, and encourage people to help make the world a greener place. Our worms show up, and selflessly and efficiently go about making VermiCompost which helps people grow better food in a sustainable way.

I cast my vote for these three.

Join the Underground Movement

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Boy can those worms eat – Big numbers ahead…

The other day I started going through our records to see how many worms we’ve sold in the past ten years. Turns out we have sent out about 20,000 pounds of worms; that’s ten tons of worms. Cup your hands together, and you have a pound of worms. Do that 20,000 times and, Voila, the worms from our little Worm Farm have found their way into homes and schools all over Northern California. Here’s what happened to them.

I have come to find that people love their worms. Yes, sometimes they get off to a rough start and we have some casualties, but people then reorder another batch and with more information in hand, they generally have success. The people who buy worms from us are wanting to have a worm bin in the house. They want to recycle and reuse their organics from their dinner plates, their yard and garden. They want to close their organic waste loop and not put these valuable organics down their garbage disposal.

With that in mind, how many TONS of garbage did we keep out of the landfills and the local waste treatment plants? There are all kinds of wild claims out in the internet universe that say worms can eat up to their body weight in a day. Common sense tells us that isn’t possible. Close records at the worm farm tell me that our worms consume about 28% of their body weight, in food, every day. This is still a pretty impressive number. Let’s see how much the worms ate in the last ten years.

For the sake of making a clean argument, let’s say that 2,000 lbs of worms were already out and in worm bins in January of 2001. Those worms were eating 28% of their body weight in food and other organic matter every day. There are days in the peak of summer, and other days in the winter when the worms don’t eat quite so much. Let’s say that they take 30 days off in the summer, and another 45 days off in the winter. We are left with 290 days of eating 28% of their body weight. Here’s how it breaks down. 2,000 lbs of worms eating 28% of their body weight each day, means they are consuming 560 lbs of food every day. Multiply 560 lbs of food per day, for 290 days and the figure you get is 162, 400 lbs of food eaten – in the first year! That’s 81 tons of food in the first year. By year ten they have consumed 1,786,400 lbs of food, or as the big boys like to say it, 893 TONS of food!!!

Here’s a spreadsheet that shows the total food eaten over the past ten years….

One might reasonably ask how long do people keep their bins going, and don’t worms just up and die. I have talked with thousands of people over the years and it is amazing how long people keep their bins going. One lady called after returning from a vacation. Her friends watching the bin had not fed the worms while she was gone. Her bin had been active for eight years, and she was starting again.  After 6 months, you can easily double your worm population. People generously share their worms with friends.

I have been a worm farmer for 20 years now. I find I am more excited now, than when I first fell in love with these selfless little workers. You don’t even have to remind them to clean their plate. Isn’t the natural world a wonder?

Come with us and ‘join the underground movement’

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A Biological Model: No one tells the elephant to hurry up her pregnancy

A couple of months ago, a group came out to the Worm Farm to see if worms could eat the spent remains of an anaerobic digestion system. I told them we could test a sample and the worms would let us know very quickly if they liked the food or not. I told them the story of a colleague who brought over compost he had made from wine must; the material that wineries have left over after they press the wines. He had composted the wine must and it looked pretty good. The seeds from the grapes had all burst from the heat of composting. The color of the compost was brown and while the smell was a bit on the acidic side, all seemed well. My colleague had come over for 5 pounds of worms. He wanted to see how well they would like his composted material.

We did a little trade; I handed over the 5 lbs of worms and  in turn he brought out some bottles of his wine for payment. I asked him if I could try a little bit of his compost and do my own little trial, and see if the worms liked to eat his compost. He said sure, and I put the compost into a box, added some worms, and went up to the office to attend to some phone calls. About 30 minutes later, I got a somewhat frantic phone call from my compost friend. He said as soon as he got home, he opened the trunk of his car, and instead of seeing a box of compost, he saw a mass migration of worms crawling around in his trunk. I told him to wait a minute. I ran down and checked my box to see how my worms were doing in his compost. My worms were also crawling out of the box. The sides of the box were nothing but a solid mass of worms, wanting to get out of the compost. The reason for the mass migration; the grape must compost was far too acidic for the worms. Grape must is around 3.5 on the PH scale, which is quite acidic. Neutral soil has a PH of 7.0. The worms did not like the material, they voted with their feet and they let us know immediately.

After telling my visitors this story, they nodded and laughed at the image of a mass worm migration. By this time we had wandered over to one of our VermiComposter beds; where each 80’ bed houses about a million worms or so. I told them the worms would process the material in 60 days. One of the visitors an engineer, piped up and said what if we heated the bed with warm tubes of water, and made it warmer; could we speed up the process? It was an innocent question, one I have heard over and over. Can’t we just speed up the process? Can’t we make it more efficient? I turned to him and said no one asks an elephant, who has a 22 month pregnancy, to hurry up and have her baby. Imagine telling your pregnant wife to be more efficient and make the baby faster. Making babies is a biological process, and it takes the time it takes. Worms are part of a biological process too, and as I told the engineer, it takes what it takes. There’s no rushing an elephant, or a worm.

Come with us and ‘Join the Underground movement’

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A funny individual unique snowflake

Last night I was coming home from a meeting, and stopped at Costco to pick up a few things. The checkout line I chose was short, my item list was small and I thought I’d just sneak out fast. As I handed my card to the checkout clerk he asked if I was in a hurry. I said no. He said he needed to closeout and said Ingrid, standing next to him would help me. I asked Ingrid how she was today and she replied “I’m a funny individual unique snowflake”. “Great answer” I replied.  She proceeded to ring up my items , while I wrote down what she had said. On the way to the car I thought about the grander vision, and how we are all individual unique snowflakes.

It is said that every snowflake has it’s own individual shape, just as people have individual fingerprints. However, when it snows it is hard to see the individual flakes for the larger amount of white that is drifting down from the clouds. Walk down a busy street in New York City and you have a vision of a sea of humanity. Drop into a coffee shop and the mass become individuals again.

At the Worm Farm, we have between five and six million worms, all with their own individual DNA; they are their own unique snowflakes. Working together they combine in a selfless way to make VermiCompost that improves the soil, helps gardens grow better food, and produce larger harvests. I’ve always been surprised when I hear the phrase ‘the lowly worm’. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our little selfless friend tills the soil, increases soil biology and leaves behind his casts to add fertility to those very soils.

In America we prize the lone individual, the John Wayne cowboy prototype who stands out in his rugged individualistic way. There is, however, another way. Imagine if people could be more like the selfless worms, and work together to make the world a better place. We have some big challenges to overcome in this country; creating more jobs, growing better food locally, immigration, racism, pollution and a host of others. John Lennon imagined a better world and I do too. I see the power of selfless teamwork every day at the Worm Farm.

The world is full of funny individual unique snowflakes. One snowflake is beautiful, but a snowfall is something to behold.

Come with us and ‘Join the Underground movement’.

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Earth Day at the Worm Farm – The blue marble earth

Anniversaries are important, I think. They remind us to pay attention to important events. Wedding anniversaries, birthdays, holidays and Earth Day. They offer us a time to take a collective breath, sit down and think about those we love, those we celebrate, those we lost and on Earth Day, the mother we all love. We wouldn’t be here without her.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw the picture of the blue marble earth, taken by the Apollo astronauts. Blue oceans, white clouds, green landmass, brown landmass, all sitting in perfect order against the blackness of space. It reminded us all that we are a part of a whole planet, and  when viewed from afar doesn’t show border lines, war zones or cultural differences. Six billion people living on this little rotating ball in the cosmos. Taking a distant look from space and seeing Mother Earth, you’d think that all was well.

Looks can be deceiving. A couple of years after those dramatic pictures were taken, the first Earth Day was celebrated. People were demanding a change in how we managed air and water pollution.  The year was 1970, and there was great tumult in the times. The Vietnam war was raging, a cultural revolution was underway, and Rachel Carson had written ‘The Silent Spring’. Santa Barbara had just suffered through a massive oil spill. The Cuyahoga River, which feeds lake Erie had caught on fire.

A United States Senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, garnered political support from the right and the left, and organized the first Earth Day on April 22nd, 1970. 20 million Americans took to the streets, and parks, and gave face to the notion of change. The change came in the form of a new Department; the Environmental Protection Agency. Congress also passed the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

I graduated from High School in 1970, and I remember well the strife of the times. I wondered what kind of world I was about to enter as a young adult. My Grandparents had always had a garden. I loved the outdoors. I loved to fly. I became an airline pilot, and spent 33 years looking down at crop circles, the Alaskan Rockies, and beautiful desolate Eastern Russia. It was a mid view of the world you might say. I took up my Grandparent’s love of the garden and started one of my own. It led to buying the Worm Farm, and my astonishment at all the great things worms do.

I have always thought that we are more alike than we are different from one another. People want to connect with each other. They long to live in peace. They want to watch their children grow up and perhaps see their grandchildren blossom. I have heard it said that a smile is recognized in all cultures the same way; it says we’re happy. At the Worm Farm, on Earth Day, we are going to cultivate our garden, tend to our plants and water our Worms. On this 42nd anniversary of Earth day we can celebrate this beautiful little  home we all share. We’re all for clean air, clean water, and worms. Love your ‘Mother’. She’s the only one we have.

Happy Earth Day from the crew at the Worm Farm. ‘Join the underground movement’.

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